Byrd and Jefferson’s Libraries: Roman otium “att the end of the world”

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Pacific Coast Philology


At Westover and Monticello, Virginians William Byrd II (1674–1744) and Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826) were each distinguished for owning the largest private libraries in North America of their day. Within these, their respective collections of Greek and Latin literature are of particular interest because of the role they played in informing Byrd and Jefferson’s self-image of themselves as Americans who were virtuously differentiated, as country-dwellers, from the urbanized citizens of Europe. Yet, whether considered as borrowed “texts,” accessible to them by virtue of their classical educations, or alternatively, as imported European luxury goods, these books emblematized the ambiguity of both men’s position between the Old World and the New. Their mansions in the wilderness furnished lavishly with such European artificialia served, in fact, to embody and represent the accommodation they settled on: the re-creation of the amenities of European culture in the heart of American Nature.

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Larson, Victoria Tietze. "Byrd and Jefferson’s Libraries: Roman otium “att the end of the world”." Pacific Coast Philology, vol. 52 no. 2, 2017, pp. 238-254. Project MUSE,